Searching for “medical truth” on the Internet.

I use the Internet to look up information almost daily because the new information that gets added to the medical field everyday is staggering. What I had learned in the medical school no longer apply today because about 90% of the information has been replaced by new discoveries and new paradigms.  I remember the dean of medical school telling us in his welcome address to us on our first day of medical school that we will have to continue leaning for the rest of our medical career because what you learn in medical school will be mostly replaced within ten years with new information; and it will continue to be replaced about every ten years.

Searching for the medical information on the Internet can be tricky for someone without medical training. When I look up information on the Internet it is usually to add new information to my existing medical knowledge base and understanding. But a person without a medical background just accrues mere facts. The facts are fine but they do not provide any understanding as to how they are to be interpreted or applied in a given context of a medical condition or situation.

Over the years with the availability of internet and the gradual adoption of the postmodern skepticism view, I have seen more and more people believing less and less to an authority and objectivity; which translated, really means that people don’t trust objective truth. In which case they are inclined not to believe individual who are experts or are specially trained in a particular field. People tend to believe those who are ‘authentic’ or ‘candid’ and state their biases. But that is not enough to get a hold on truth, to see the situation “as it is “ one needs more.

Someone who is an authority on a subject is not alone on holding those truths, he/she has a history of communal trek which span over many centuries and over many different terrains during which sphere of knowledge has been accumulated on firm footing. The folk lure and popular opinion have been weeded out by making scrupulous, disinterested observations and by executing careful, transparent experiments. These truths are never final, in future times it is possible that the truth we hold today may be falsified with further new evidence. This is what separates knowledge from opinion or folklore; knowledge can be corrected and new insights can be added to the sphere of knowledge. Experts in their fields know how to evaluate the truth from competing false charismatic claims; she/he is unlikely to make decisions that may be based on false information, thus avoiding decisions that are irrational, prejudiced, or those that are susceptible to propaganda.

Most people (though less than before) afford special privilege to the professionals because they ask and expect them to render complex, disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty; and this is how it should be. We should not be so naïve as to believe that most individuals can become their own best doctors by surfing the Internet and getting the facts. Much more is need to make good medical decisions about the diagnosis and the treatment options.

The Internet has its usefulness for sure; it is a source of information that has never been available to so many and so easily in the history of humankind. People can communicate and publicize that which is not right with the world. They can criticize the experts or the public leaders. This is all good for democracy. But it can also be used as a propaganda tool. It has never been so critical in the history of humans to be able to evaluate information appropriately so that it’s not misleading. Humankind it seems has solved the problem of disseminating information to everyone who cares to know but we still have long ways to go with understanding and wisdom.

Howard Gardner in his book “ Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed” writes…

But the proliferation of sources on the web may well usher in new situation: in the future we can expect more knowledge, better questions, and refusal to accept authority, let alone stand in awe, just because a credentialing agency has placed a new additional letters before or after the professional’s given name.”

It is hard to be certain what the future will look like with new changes, attitudes and expectations. I am hopeful that future will afford constructive conversations between individuals, families, groups, and the community at large; and should disputes arise they are settled with knowledge with firm basis.

Resources:

“ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”  by Howard Gardner

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